Do you work for one of those companies that doesn’t translate content? One of those companies that sells products or services only in the United States and other presumably English-only countries? Perhaps your company, like many, abides by the terribly flawed notion that “everyone” speaks English.

Let’s start by getting a few facts straight. Not everyone speaks English. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2011, 59.5 million people in the U.S. speak a language other than English at home.  In fact, 22% of people report speaking English “not well” or “not at all”. That’s almost ¼ of the U.S. population. The idea that everyone speaks English, even in the U.S., is simply incorrect.

Whether your company sells business-to-business (B-to-B) or business-to-consumer (B-to-C), you have customers, prospects, partners, and employees who are translating your content.

“Say what? I told you, my company doesn’t translate.”

Okay, let’s agree that your company is not paying for professional translation. Your content is still being translated. Right now. Everywhere. As you read this.

It’s a fact. People who speak other languages are using free machine translation (MT) engines, such as Google Translate or Bing Translate, to put your content into a language they can read. As I’ve mentioned countless times before, free machine translation engines are about as good as…well…anything else you get for free.

A few months ago, we picked up a free piano.  We spent hours and hours one evening tuning it ourselves. (After all, we weren’t going to spend good money to have a free piano tuned!) Even after tuning it, it still sounds like a free piano. It’s tolerable to fiddle around on. But, I’d never use it to perform a Rachmaninoff concerto or a Beethoven Sonata for a paying audience.

The same is true for content that your company paid to have created and your customers have paid for as part of their purchase. Free MT is like my free piano. As my teenager would say, the quality is “meh”. And “meh” is a terrible reflection on your company, your writers, your product or service, and your brand.

In addition, you have lost control over what your customer (internal or external) is reading. You know the content that is going into the MT engine, but you have no idea what comes out the other side in, say, Bosnian or Russian.

So what’s a non-translating company to do? What if you don’t have a budget for translation and it doesn’t look like you will anytime soon?

There is only one thing to do: always write your content as if it will be translated. Always follow rules for creating global-ready content.

What are the rules?

  • Write shorter sentences.
  • Eliminate needless words.
  • Say the same thing, the same way, every time you say it.
  • Avoid idioms and jargon.
  • Use correct grammar.

If you follow these rules, you increase the chances that translations produced by free MT engines are somewhat accurate.  And, as a side benefit, your English becomes much easier to read, too.

Need some help globalizing your English content before translation? We have the tools and expertise to help you. Give us a call.

Val Swisher
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